On September 29, I attended the Battle for the Latino Vote conference co-hosted by Columbia’s Graduate School of Journalism and NBC’s Telemundo Network. The event included a variety of panelists, ending with a discussion with Chuck Todd, moderator of Meet the Press, as he fielded questions from Ed O’Keefe, reporter at The Washington Post, and the audience about this historic election.
The discussion confirmed what I, as a Latina, have always known: despite our growing population and economic power, Latinos continue to be largely ignored by political candidates, including our current Presidential candidates, who see immigration as the only issue that concerns us.
Statistics, including those provided at the event by Mark Hugo Lopez, director of Hispanic research at the Pew Research Center, continue to show a low voter turnout among Latinos. This is a major issue leading to our invisibility in politics and our lack of influence in pushing for more inclusive agendas. Despite the statistics, Latinos tend to have very strong opinions about political candidates and socioeconomic issues that affect their lives.
It can be said that Latinos are to blame for the lack of political influence. However, there are greater powers at play in erasing their presence. As highlighted by Chuck Todd, redistricting is an important issue that must be addressed, since there are many U.S. communities where Republicans have “drawn out” Latinos from the districts; literally, the boundaries of districts were drawn to isolate Latinos.
A further discussion of Latinos in the U.S. juggled with describing them as either conservative Republicans or Democrats – proving how miserable of a job both parties have done in reaching Latinos and understanding their values. Latinos tend to uphold strong religious values that may align better with the positions taken by Republican candidates (i.e. on abortion); however, they are less fiscally conservative. Further, Democrats may portray a sense of financial security for Latinos that may be appealing given communities’ historical levels of poverty. As more Latinos are born in the U.S., they will eventually drive the growth of markets (with their money) and rise in political influence. But first, they have to vote!